James Horan may have been correct to chide Mayo supporters during the week about all that “daft” talk of Croke Park in August but by half-time in McHale Park today it was obvious that this is where, once again, we’re headed this year. Roscommon’s early challenge had by then been comprehensively unpicked and with a nine-point cushion going into the second half, the contest was already over at that stage. We won pulling up today and it’d take a fairly lively imagination to see anything different occurring in the provincial decider next month. Croke Park, here we come.
The stand was filling up rapidly by the time we made it into the ground today and there was a real championship air to the proceedings as the clock ticked down to the 4pm throw-in time. It felt like championship as well for much of the first half, as the Rossies sought to implement a coherent game-plan, one that clearly sought an avoidance of the same fate that befell the Tribesmen and one which appeared to be working okay for them in the opening quarter.
Right from the throw-in, Roscommon applied strong pressure on us high up the field, contesting every ball fiercely and closing down David Clarke’s options from his kick-outs. They also more than matched us in the battle for primary ball around the middle and in snapping up the loose secondary stuff as well. All this worked so well for them that in that closely contested opening phase of the game, most of the action took place in our half. It took us nearly five minutes to launch our first attack and a full twelve minutes had passed before Kevin McLoughlin broke our duck with a neat point from play.
Crucially, though, that positive opening showing by the visitors wasn’t reflected on the scoreboard. They took the lead for the first and only time via a Donie Smith free but the same player then failed to double their lead soon after when he screwed an equally easy free wide. It was after that miss that we began to take the game to them and once we did our points tally began to accumulate fairly rapidly.
Before we got our opening score we nearly had two goals, with Richie Feeney attempting to set up Alan Freeman when he really should have taken the point to get us going and then Alan Dillon flicked David Clarke’s ’45 onto the crossbar. Kevin McLoughlin’s opener was followed by a boomer from Donal Vaughan, with Kevin getting his second from a free after Enda Varley was fouled.
Photo: Mayo Mick
The game’s next score was a nice one from play for them by Karol Mannion but then the increasingly influential Alan Freeman got two for us, both involving spectacular fetches by the Aghamore man. He was fouled on the way down for the first one – and pointed the resultant free – but after catching the next one he turned and banged it over to put us three clear.
Our grip on proceedings tightened as Keith Higgins stole upfield on a trademark run, knifed right through the Rossies’ defence and fired over with his left foot. Kevin McLoughlin added another from play but the visitors then stemmed the tide with two well-worked scores, the first from Higgins and the second from Devanney to cut the gap to three with ten minutes of the first half to play.
Photo: Mayo Mick
Over that ten-minute spell, though, we fairly put them to the sword, firing over six points without reply, each successive one sucking that bit more of the fight from them.
Colm Boyle got the first of this fusilade, when he burst through the increasingly despairing Rossie cover to smash over a real belter. This was followed by five more points – frees from Kevin and Alan Freeman and ones from open play by Richie Feeney (a real monster that one was), Alan Dillon and Enda Varley – as we surged into a nine-point lead at the break.
There was simply no way back for Roscommon after that and, to be honest, it was difficult not to have some sympathy for them at the break. They hadn’t capitulated in the craven manner that Galway had done, they’d managed not to concede a goal (and went on to complete that achievement in the second half) and they’d contested well, in particular at midfield, for much of the half. But, despite all this good work, the match was still all over bar the proverbial shouting.
I was on my way back from the jacks when the action got underway again and so missed Aidan O’Shea’s point right at the start of the half, which stretched our lead to ten points. Once I did get back to my seat, though, it was obvious that all the intensity had gone from the contest with the match petering out very tamely.
Photo: Mayo Mick
Long before the end, we’d got to bench-emptying territory, a process that began with David Clarke (injured, I guess?) being replaced by Kenneth O’Malley soon after the restart. Andy Moran got a rousing welcome when he came on for Cathal Carolan and further switches saw Darren Coen, Shane McHale and Kevin Keane replace Enda Varley, Ger Cafferkey (who also seemed to have taken a knock) and Keith Higgins respectively.
In Salthill the last day, we never really let up throughout the second half, the match ending in a crescendo with Andy’s comeback goal, but today the contest just faded and died after the break and the Rossie crowd were streaming out in droves with more than twenty minutes still left on the clock. They’d clearly seen enough by then but the home faithful who stuck around didn’t get much in the way of entertainment either, as we hit a succession of poor wides – six in a row, I think – before ref Michael Duffy mercifully ended proceedings.
Our performance today didn’t hit the same high notes that we’d reached in Salthill but in many respects it was just as satisfactory. Roscommon made every attempt to make life difficult for us early on but we still managed to post a winning score by half-time. What was impressive today was the spread of scorers – all three half-backs got on the board and all the forwards bar Cathal Carolan pointed too, as did subs Andy Moran and Darren Coen.
Between the sticks, both David Clarke and Kenneth O’Malley did fine. David wasn’t able to get the same range of varied kick-outs going in the first half but that was simply down to the effective way the Rossies were tracking our runners at that stage of the game. He dealt with the only really dangerous Hail Mary ball that came into him, as did Kenneth with a similar ball later on. The Ballinrobe man deputised effectively in the second half, never really putting a foot wrong after he came on.
All the full-back line played well, in particular Tom Cunniffe who emerged with the ball time after time as Roscommon tried to unpick us at the back in the first half. Likewise, the entire half-back line were impressive, with Colm Boyle once more at his imperious best at wing-back.
Photo: Mayo Mick
We didn’t dominate at midfield until after the break but the O’Shea brothers, especially Seamus, still did well throughout. It would have been good, though, to see Barry Moran come on at some point after the break, but it looked as if those injuries to David Clarke and Ger Caff may have constrained us in that area.
Kevin McLoughlin would have justifiable claims to MOTM, I reckon, with his five points and his constant lively promptings contributing very handsomely to the win. Soo too would Richie Feeney who had a very productive day, especially when the fat was still in the fire in the first half, and the oft-maligned Alan Freeman,who was easily our best forward in the first half, wouldn’t have been far off that accolade either. Andy Moran and Darren Coen were both lively and effective when they came on after the break. Andy smashed over a real zinger of a point with the outside of his boot from out on the wing and Darren’s shot for his second point late on could just as easily have ended in the net.
So it’s onto the Connacht final, where we’ll play either Leitrim and London on July 21st. And once we beat whichever one of them it is – which we will, and comprehensively – our campaign will then move onto the serious challenges that await us in Croke Park. Hang on, though, who said anything about Croke Park? Sure aren’t we focused solely on Game 3 now?
Mayo: David Clarke; Tom Cunniffe, Ger Cafferkey, Keith Higgins (0-1); Lee Keegan (0-1), Donal Vaughan (0-1), Colm Boyle (0-2); Aidan O’Shea (0-1), Seamus O’Shea; Kevin McLoughlin (0-5, four frees), Richie Feeney (0-1), Cathal Carolan; Enda Varley (0-1), Alan Freeman (0-4, three frees), Alan Dillon (0-1). Subs: Kenneth O’Malley for Clarke, Andy Moran (0-1) for Carolan, Darren Coen (0-2) for Varley, Shane McHale for Cafferkey, Kevin Keane for Higgins.